A Traveling Scribe’s Tools

You live in the middle ages (500 AD to 1500 AD) and you are a a scribe traveling on your way to the Lord’s keep or perhaps on pilgrimage and wish to keep notes of your journey.  Perhaps your are just walking from one part of the monastery to another.   What do you carry your tools in?  What are those tools?  How to keep them both safe and all in one place?  Never fear, there are answers to those questions.

What container are you going to put your tools in?  The tool is called a penner.  A penner is little more than a hollow leather tube which on one end has a cap allowing one to insert into and remove objects from it.


Leather penner made by Errc Glaison of the Middle Kingdom.  I traded him for it.

The leather thong serves two purposes.  One this penner is designed for the travelling scribe to wear on the belt.  Simply loop the penner through the thong and it is secured on the belt.  The second purpose is to secure the cap.  Slits cut in the cap (the left side 1/3 of the penner) allow the cap to slide along the thong thus never losing the cap as long as the thong is not broken.  The thong also helps keep the cap secured on the penner.  In this manner the penner would hang from the travelling scribe’s belt.  The penner does swing as one walks with it so I recommend wearing it on the side of one’s belt not in the front.  If long enough the thong also allows the scribe to open and close the penner without having to first remove it from the belt making it very convenient.


Penner with cap off and slid to the end of the leather thong.

So what goes into a penner?  Well pens.  That is how it got its name.  Also a pen knife to cut, sharpen and re-cut the pen.


Pens and pen knife partially out. Notice the pens are tip up.

Why are the pens all point up instead of pointing down?  Modern ball point pens are stored with the points down to help ensure that the ink flows properly when you pick it up to write with.  Medieval pens are dip pens and quill pens have fragile tips.  Storing them with the nibs up protects the tip and helps keep them in a healthy working condition.

So let us take a better look at the contents of this penner.


Penner with its contents.

Top to bottom we see the penner, a reproduction metal pen (black ink), used qull pen (black ink) uncut cured feather quill and shaft, reproduction pen knife, two quill pens (red ink) and two quill pens (black ink).  There is actually room for more.  Rumor has it that penners would often have strips of parchment in them as well.  I don’t do this.

Okay, we have pens and a pen knife in the penner.  Where do we put the ink?  All the pens in the world can’t write without their ink.  There were also travelling ink wells.


Traveling horn ink well on parchment with cured uncut feather.

This is reproduction  horn ink well designed to travel.  The bottom was cut flat and wood was pegged to the bottom and a sealant was applied.  The horn is hollow and has a carved wooden top.  The horn also had a ridge carved into it all the way around for a cord to be tied around it.  This is a hemp cord.  The cord ties to the belt much the same way the penner does.  The wood cap swells when it gets wet and works very well to keep the liquid ink in without spills.  I have run with this ink horn attached to my belt and not had any ink spill.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of a period scribes tools.  There are other tools a traveling scribe might have as well but we will stop here with these.


13 responses to “A Traveling Scribe’s Tools

  1. I was looking into traveling scribes for a post on my blog and your very interesting article popped up. Hard to compete wit your effort.

    • Thank you for the compliment.
      I hope that my blog serves as inspiration and a stepping off place for my fellow scribes and calligraphers. While certainly this blog is about being informative I am reasoanbly assured that it is not the last word on anything and more can be done than I could possibly do.

      Please Jehanne, I would very much like to see what other informaiton you might put on your blog regarding this subject.

  2. Pingback: A Traveling Scribe’s Tools | scribescribbling·

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